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N.J. Walters: Second Chance at Love
Thursday, June 15th, 2017

Do you believe in second chances?

As a romance writer, I have to. Happily ever after is my stock-in-trade. As a woman, I want to believe in second chances. Life can be challenging at the best of times. With the stresses of modern life—careers, money, bills, children, family, illness—it’s no wonder that sometimes love isn’t enough to hold a relationship together.

But as a writer, I get the opportunity to rewrite history, to give a couple a second chance. What could be better than watching two people discover that the passion, the love between them hasn’t died, but is still there, waiting for the right spark to be rekindled.

There are times when two people are at different places in their lives, especially when they are younger, and their relationship doesn’t work out. They go their separate ways and live their lives, but fate has other plans. What happens when they are thrown together again, both parties older and wiser than they were when they were younger? Will they make the same mistakes or will they reach out and take a chance on their love?

That’s exactly what happens in my story “Roadside Assistance” when Esme Jenson’s car breaks down and the man who stops to help her is her ex, Vincent Durango.

This is just one of the short stories in Blue Collar: A Boys Behaving Badly Anthology, a wonderful new collection I’m thrilled to be a part of.

BLUE COLLAR

When it comes to love…Blue Collar is better!

It’s time to set aside those sexy billionaires and enjoy stories about the everyday, even sexier bad boys you meet in real life. They may have dirty hands and wear tool belts and jeans instead of Rolex watches, but they’re earthy alpha males unafraid to get down and dirty when face to face with a woman in need–whatever her need may be!

Just a few of the titillating stories inside…

In “Elevation” by Megan Mitcham, an always-in-control policewoman trapped in an elevator shaft gets a sexy rescue from the handsome repairman. A lonely woman drives a thousand miles to meet an oil field roughneck ready for a long night of laying pipe in Mia Hopkins’ “We Drill Deep While Others Sleep”. Jennifer Kacey shows the lengths to which an enterprising gal will go to get the owner of an oil change shop to check her fluids in “The Boss”. And those are just a few of the sexy stories inside this collection about the everyday hero next door.

These are men who’ve built their powerful muscles from hard work rather than inside any gym, and they sure know how to use their hard-earned skills to pleasure a woman…

BUY LINKS:
Amazon: http://bit.ly/BBBABCAMZ
Nook: http://bit.ly/BBBABCNOOK
IBooks: http://bit.ly/BBBABCIBOOKS
Kobo: http://bit.ly/BBBABCKOBO
Googleplay: http://bit.ly/BBBABCGPLAY

About the Author

N.J. Walters is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has always been a voracious reader, and now she spends her days writing novels of her own. Vampires, werewolves, dragons, time-travelers, seductive handymen, and next-door neighbors with smoldering good looks—all vie for her attention. It’s a tough life, but someone’s got to live it.

Visit me at:
Website: http://www.njwalters.com
Blog: http://www.njwalters.blogspot.com
Newsletter Group: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/awakeningdesires/info
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/N.J.WaltersAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/njwaltersauthor
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/NJWalters
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/author/njwalters
BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/n-j-walters

Blue Collar: A Boys Behaving Badly Anthology is here! (Contest)
Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

That big sexy book filled with steamy, blue collar heroes is here! And at just $0.99 (that’s just $0.06 per story!), you can’t go wrong. Indulge yourself!

All my author-contributor-friends and myself can’t wait for you to dive in. It is truly a labor of love. I chose all the stories and did the final polish. My very good friend at Lustre Editing did the line edits. My sister, Elle James,  created this incredible cover! All the authors are thrilled and are getting the word out! We’ll be blogging about our inspiration for our stories on my Collections website over the next couple of weeks. There will be snippets from the book and PRIZES! So, be sure to check us out. Maybe you’ll want to subscribe to that site so you don’t miss a thing!

On Thursday, we’re hosting a release party on Facebook! There will be tons of prizes, lots of fun, and you can meet the authors!

And something you can do? Tell a friend. Share the news. And if you have the time and inclination, write a review. We’d all be forever grateful! In the meantime, enjoy the 16 stories inside this lush volume of erotic short stories! Bon appétit!

Blue Collar

Get your copy here!
Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Google Play

When it comes to love…Blue Collar is better!

It’s time to set aside those sexy billionaires and enjoy stories about the everyday, even sexier bad boys you meet in real life. They may have dirty hands and wear tool belts and jeans instead of Rolex watches, but they’re earthy alpha males unafraid to get down and dirty when face to face with a woman in need–whatever her need may be!

Just a few of the titillating stories inside…

In “Elevation” by Megan Mitcham, an always-in-control policewoman trapped in an elevator shaft gets a sexy rescue from the handsome repairman. A lonely woman drives a thousand miles to meet an oil field roughneck ready for a long night of laying pipe in Mia Hopkins’ “We Drill Deep While Others Sleep”. Jennifer Kacey shows the lengths to which an enterprising gal will go to get the owner of an oil change shop to check her fluids in “The Boss”. And those are just a few of the sexy stories inside this collection about the everyday hero next door.

These are men who’ve built their powerful muscles from hard work rather than inside any gym, and they sure know how to use their hard-earned skills to pleasure a woman…

 Table of Contents

We Drill Deep While Others Sleep by Mia Hopkins – After a thousand mile drive, a lonely lady meets her oil field roughneck for a long night of laying pipe

Elevation by Megan Mitcham – A policewoman stuck a hundred feet up an elevator shaft eagerly welcomes the rescue from a hunky repairman

Upside Down Love by Adele Downs – When a handsome construction worker rescues her after an accident, a divorcee discovers that falling in love at middle age is easier than riding a bicycle

Plays with Fire by Elle James – In an attempt to seduce a younger firefighter, a sexy widow gets a lesson in burning desires by the firefighter’s badass partner

Roadside Assistance by N.J. Walters – When a woman’s car breaks down, she gets a little “roadside assistance” from her ex

Cabin Fever by Kris Norris – After successfully avoiding a confrontation during her unit’s team-building retreat at her ex-fiancé’s inn, a police detective’s luck runs out

Shear Passion by Belinda LaPage – Among sweat, backaches and an insatiable lust, an itinerant shearer and a farmer’s daughter hatch an unlikely romance in the rustic beauty of a remote Australian woolshed

Traffic Stop by Kalissa Wayne – When a councilwoman gets stopped on a deserted country road, she gets a lesson in proper procedure by the sheriff

Special Delivery by Susan Saxx – When a former socialite’s life splinters apart on New Year’s Eve, it takes a machinist to show her that blue collar love is better

The Boss by Jennifer Kacey –The owner of an oil change shop gets a customer willing to do anything for him to check her fluids after hours

Challenge Met by Layla Chase – Following a long absence from a small Texas town, ex-soldier turned farrier accepts the flirtatious challenge of a wealthy rancher’s spoiled daughter

In the Heat of the Moment by M. Marie – When one of her detectives steps out of line, a police lieutenant wastes no time reminding him why she’s the commanding officer in their precinct

Renovating the Heart by Robie Madison – A sledgehammer-wielding divorcée finds her heart repaired by a contractor she hires to renovate an old family cabin

Full of the Wild Life by Tray Ellis – When her surveyor boyfriend returns from the Alaskan wilderness, a woman considers his proposal one more time

Bountiful Lust by Delilah Devlin – After bucking her trainer’s orders during a takedown, a female bounty hunter proves she’s ready for the job

Mr. Big by Sukie Chapin – Stranded on the roadside, a struggling grad student, who is also a part-time sex-toy peddler, finds there’s more to her hot mechanic than bulging biceps and mad skills under the hood

Contest

Rogues

Win a free copy of Rogues: A Boys Behaving Badly Anthology #1! All you have to do is tell me which of the stories listed in the Table of Contents above you’re dying to read!

Love bounty hunters?
Sunday, June 11th, 2017

First, thanks to everyone who purchased Big Sky SEAL! It’s still in the top ten for Kindle Worlds Romance books this morning! And thanks to everyone who took the time to write a review! I’m really happy to know that y’all are eager for more bounty hunter stories because guess what? I have one inside Blue Collar, which releases this coming Tuesday! It’s a short story anthology, stuffed full with 16 wonderful, blue collar heroes. Best yet, the price of the anthology is only $0.99! Check out the opening of my story and tell me what you think!

Blue Collar

When it comes to love…Blue Collar is better!

It’s time to set aside those sexy billionaires and enjoy stories about the everyday, even sexier bad boys you meet in real life. They may have dirty hands and wear tool belts and jeans instead of Rolex watches, but they’re earthy alpha males unafraid to get down and dirty when face to face with a woman in need–whatever her need may be!

Just a few of the titillating stories inside…

In “Elevation” by Megan Mitcham, an always-in-control policewoman trapped in an elevator shaft gets a sexy rescue from the handsome repairman. A lonely woman drives a thousand miles to meet an oil field roughneck ready for a long night of laying pipe in Mia Hopkins’ “We Drill Deep While Others Sleep”. Jennifer Kacey shows the lengths to which an enterprising gal will go to get the owner of an oil change shop to check her fluids in “The Boss”. And those are just a few of the sexy stories inside this collection about the everyday hero next door.

These are men who’ve built their powerful muscles from hard work rather than inside any gym, and they sure know how to use their hard-earned skills to pleasure a woman…

Pre-order your copy here!

Excerpt from Bountiful Lust

The hunters I work with all have cool, dangerous-sounding handles: Catch, Dagger, Bulldog. My first day on the job, Dagger nicknamed me Buttercup, and it stuck.

Catch, the hunter who’d founded this agency, decided he needed a bounty hunter with “soft” skills. Someone approachable, whom mamas and girlfriends could confide in. Not that he ever expected I’d have to do the “heavier” tasks, like break down a door or take a target to the ground. Bounty hunting’s dangerous work and not meant for faint-hearted dudes—or girls.

I felt lucky when they called me Buttercup, but mostly, they called me “the girl.” Like this morning, when Catch handed out assignments and told Bulldog to take along the girl.

I didn’t make a fuss. PC communications weren’t part of any office handbook. I knew from day one I had to prove myself. Not that I’d gotten a chance, so far, to show them what I had. Being ex-military, and an ex-cop, didn’t earn me any points. I guess it didn’t help I was only five-feet-five and a hundred ten pounds soaking wet. Bulldog figured that with blonde hair and blue eyes, I looked more like a high school cheerleader—not a compliment, since he thought girls like that were stupid as hell.

Maybe I didn’t help my cause with the way I dressed. Ever since they’d named me Buttercup, I’d done my best to dress the part. Sure, I wore denim, tees, and boots, just like them, but my pink T-shirt emblazoned with “Girl Power,” and my purple-calico-lined jean jacket with lace inserts on the pockets, didn’t exactly fit with their leather jackets and black tees sporting bike club slogans. The few times I hadn’t been tied to a desk making phone calls to relatives to track low-lifes who’d skipped their court dates, I’d been relegated to staying in the truck while the guys did the dirty work.

Not so today, but only because we were going to reach out to Lenny Holcomb’s mama to see if she wanted to keep her house, seeing as she’d offered her home as collateral when posting his bond.

Bulldog gave me the evil eye as we walked toward the small, clapboard house on the bad side of town. “Shit goes sideways,” he said, “you stand back and let me handle it.”

I offered him a non-committal nod. “Think Mrs. Holcomb will give you that much trouble?”

He snorted and skewered me with a narrow-eyed glare.

“Ooh,” I said in my best little-girl voice and gave an exaggerated shiver, hoping he’d trip over his big feet. Not that I had to pretend my reaction too much. Something about the big burly guy did it for me. His face was too manly to be handsome—square jaw, crooked nose, laser-sharp blue eyes. Thick, gold-brown hair dusted the collar of his jacket. His six-foot-four, heavily-muscled frame made me feel feminine and soft and all those other useless qualities I despised in “helpless” females. Go figure—the thought of those big, hard hands rasping over my skin made me tremble.

At Mrs. Holcomb’s door, I knocked.

No response.

I knocked again. Still nothing.

Bulldog stepped to the left and peered into the window. “Don’t think anyone’s home. And since this is his address of record…” He backed up and raised a booted foot.

“Really want to knock down her door?” I pulled my lock-pick kit from my back pocket and knelt in front of the knob. A couple of twists of my tools, and the lock snicked. I turned the knob and quickly moved away from the door, giving way to Bulldog as he grumbled something under his breath about smartass women and strode inside.

Bulldog’s big frame filled my view, so I was taken by surprise when he cussed and rushed toward a hallway.

A crash sounded in a distant room. Light from an open doorway in the back glared as he ran through it. I followed, watching as our target ran for the chain link fence and vaulted it.

Bulldog cussed again, placed a hand on the top of the fence, but when he swung over his big body, the thin metal running through the top caved, and he fell to the dirt.

I picked another spot farther down the fence, grabbed a post and swung over, landing on my booted feet and shooting down the alleyway.

Behind me, I heard grunts and more curses, and finally, “Dammit, Buttercup, wait for me!”

I wasn’t waiting for shit. Lenny moved fast for a big boy. He was almost at the end of the alley. If I didn’t catch him quickly, I’d lose sight of him, and we’d lose our paycheck. With my breaths coming fast and sweat trickling into my eyes, I sped up, reaching out with my fingertips to snatch a handful of his shirt. With the fabric in my fist, I drew back and swung him.

He went sideways, but he didn’t go down. He twisted out of my grasp and raised his fists, his eyes widening as he looked me up and down, an ugly sneer stretching across his equally ugly face.

He swung.

But I was ready, ducking beneath and coming up to drive my fists into his fat gut, then bouncing back to avoid the next wide swing.

When he didn’t connect, his swing carried him forward, and he turned.

I rocketed to his back and wrapped my arm around his throat, grasping my fist to keep my arm in place, as he staggered then went to his knees, his fingers scratching my arms before reaching backward to pull my hair.

But he didn’t get a hank. His body crashed forward, bringing me with him, because my arm was trapped beneath his thick neck.

Boots pounded the pavement then slowed.

“Buttercup, need a hand?”

I wheezed, trying to drag in a breath as his weight crushed me against the pavement. “Roll him so I can get back my arm.”

Lenny’s body rolled to his side.

Bulldog lowered his boot then bent to offer me a hand up. His gaze went to the thick scratches on my arms.

Blood ran in rivulets from the deep gouges.

“Goddammit.” Bulldog’s scowl was scary as he blew out a deep breath, and then reached behind his neck to pull his T-shirt over his head.

He tossed it at me.

All I could do was stare at the grayscale tattoos covering his shoulders and chest, disappearing into his jeans.

“Wrap this around your arm. You’re gonna bleed all over my truck.” Then he went down on one knee and locked cuffs around Lenny’s wrists. When he stood, he kicked the low-life in the ass.

What readers are saying about BIG SKY SEAL! (Contest)
Saturday, June 10th, 2017

UPDATE: The winner of the $5 Amazon gift card is…Krysten H!

* * * * *

I love and hate when a new story comes out. I pour a lot of effort into my writing, but I always wonder with the next book, do I still have “it”? Well, I’m breathing a sigh of relief. Since it’s release on Thursday, I’ve been getting emails from readers telling me how much they enjoyed the story and answering the question I asked on the last page of the book. (Yes, I did that. And no, I won’t tell you what it was. :) )

Readers have said this about Big Sky SEAL…

“This is the start of, what I hope, will be a new series of Montana bounty hunters. This book has a cast of great characters including the secondary ones. Can anyone say REAPER, oh my gawd!!…Delilah Devlin doesn’t disappoint in any of her books and I have to say this is now my favorite.” ~ A. Dodds

“Bounty hunting, searching for a known terrorist. Action and romance, great balance!” ~ M. Frabutt

“Terrific! Jamie and Sky’s story is one you don’t want to miss.” ~ D. Watson

“Big Sky SEAL has a lot of hot former military characters, including a strong woman, and a former bomb-sniffing dog (I’m a sucker for dogs in stories) – what more could you ask for? Oh yeah, the sex is hot, too. <smile>” ~ Buttons

So, there you have it. They love my Montana bounty hunters, my sexy ex-SEAL, the kick-ass action, and the ex-bomb dog with PTSD. :)

Get your copy here!

I can’t wait to hear what you think of my latest Uncharted SEALs story—and for your answer to the question I posed on the last page of the story. And if you have time and the inclination, know that I’ll be very, very grateful if you’d post a review.

Contest

Tell me what you’d like to see me work on next from among these possible themes…

Montana Bounty Hunters

Paranormal Spec Ops Team

Alien League Abductions

…or more of…

Uncharted SEALs

Lone Star Lovers cowboy menages

Night Fall vamps and weres

I’ll give away a small Amazon gift card to one commenter!

Elle James: New Brotherhood Protectors Kindle World!
Thursday, June 8th, 2017

I’m so very excited to announce the launch of my very own Kindle World BROTHERHOOD PROTECTORS! What is a Kindle World? It’s like fanfiction. Other authors are welcome to write in my world of the Brotherhood Protectors. Their characters interact with mine and you get to visit both their worlds and mine. What’s cool is the authors who offer to write in my world. My sister, Delilah Devlin, has a novella in my world and I can’t wait for you to read it. If you like military dudes, Montana and cowboys, you’re going to love this Kindle World. They books are inexpensive at only 1.99 each, which makes it easy to afford all 13 of them! Load up your reader for a happy weekend of reading. Thanks for giving these authors a chance and reading their stories. They’re awesome!

And if you haven’t tried my books in the Brotherhood Protector series, visit my series page on Amazon here BROTHERHOOD PROTECTORS.

BROTHERHOOD PROTECTORS KINDLE WORLD BOOK LINKS

Protecting Kiera – Susan Stoker – http://bit.ly/BROPROPROTKIERA

Big Sky SEAL – Delilah Devlin – http://bit.ly/BROPROBIGSKYSEAL

Vigilante Justice – Jordan Dane – http://bit.ly/BROPROVIGJUST

Before the Brotherhood – Mandy Harbin – http://bit.ly/BROPROBEFBROTH

Elite Protector – Donna Michaels – http://bit.ly/BROPROELITPROT

Snow SEAL – Kalyn Cooper – http://bit.ly/BROPROSNOSEAL

Wish Upon a SEAL – JM Madden – http://bit.ly/BROPROWISHUPONSEAL

Riser’s Resolve – Lindsay Cross – http://bit.ly/BROPRORISERRESOL

Soldier’s Heart – Ilsa J. Bick – http://bit.ly/BROPROSOLDHEART

Montana Freedom – Natasza Waters – http://bit.ly/BROPROMONTFREE

Montana Marine – Debra Parmley – http://bit.ly/BROPROMONTMARINE

Tempting Montana – Parker Kincade – http://bit.ly/BROPROTEMPTMONT

Montana Gypsy – KD Michaels – http://bit.ly/BROPROMONTGYP

Four Texas cowboys SWORN to give her pleasure!
Saturday, June 3rd, 2017

Dear Readers and Friends,

Another scandal is brewing in Two Mule, Texas, and Shauna Davies is right at the center! This lucky girl is about to receive the sexiest gift ever from the boy she’s loved all her life.

If you love sexy, slow-talking cowboys, with even sexier friends who are willing to go the extra mile to help a guy “seal the deal” with his girl, well, I have the story you’ve been waiting for!

Four Sworn is out now! It’s the third story in the Lone Star Lovers series. Get caught up because Breaking Leather is coming June 16th!

Happy reading!

Four sexy cowboys sworn to give her pleasure!

Sometimes it takes a cowboy, or maybe four, to unleash a woman’s wild child…

Being the pretty daughter of the town whore was reason enough to ensure Shauna Davies lived a circumspect life, stepping out of line only occasionally with her favorite cowboy, boyfriend Bo Crenshaw. But her untamed spirit is forcing her to make a new start in another place where no one knows her past—but not before she fulfills one last wicked fantasy…

Cowboy Bo Crenshaw has loved Shauna since they shared their first sexual adventures as teenagers, but he hasn’t found the way to show her he accepts the wild child she keeps hidden inside—at least, not until she confesses a long-held fantasy. Now Bo is determined to give her a send-off that will make her think twice about blowing out of town.

Hoping he’s found the key to unlocking her heart, he turns to the Kinzie brothers, his three closest friends, to provide her a single night of unrestrained passion.

Get your copy here!

And in case you missed the first two…

Unbridled 600 Unforgiven 600

Ready for pre-order now!

BreakingLeather 600

Flashback: Controlled Burn (Contest)
Thursday, June 1st, 2017

UPDATE: The winner is Katherine Robinson!

* * * * *

My daughter has perfect teeth. Not a cavity. Not ever. Thanks to genetics and modern dentistry. I, on the other hand, have horrible teeth. I have soft, chalky back teeth, prone to cavities. Which means, I have a few crowns back there. Last night, while I sat on my daughter’s sofa, she of the perfect teeth, one of my crowns fell out. Do you know, I had that one so long, I didn’t even know there was a crown on that tooth. Color me surprised!

Which really makes today a shitty, shitty day. I am going to call the dentist this AM to request an emergency appointment. This afternoon, I have a doctor’s appointment at the VA in Little Rock (oh joy). I had hoped for a little time to write. Now, I have a microscopic window open to write. So, I have a related question. Comment and you might win a free story! Don’t you love how I work real life around to having something to do with books? :)

For a chance to win your choice of one of these
Cowboys on the Edge stories, answer me this!

Do you have perfect teeth? Have you ever had a dental emergency?

Wet Down Controlled Burn Cain's Law Flashpoint

(Click on a cover if you’d like to learn more!)

Don’t know what you’re missing in this cowboy series? Read a sexy excerpt…

Controlled Burn

Controlled Burn

This flame doesn’t need a match…

One high school prank gone wrong shouldn’t define the rest of Carly Lohan’s life. But setting fire to Caldera Canyon isn’t something townsfolk will ever forget. As the last part of her final act of restitution, she’s among the group of volunteers assigned to keep a prescribed burn of underbrush and grass from “running over the rim” into the ranches ringing the park.

Local rancher and volunteer firefighter Jeremiah McCord doesn’t trust the reformed firebug anywhere near the canyon’s controlled burn. Determined to keep her on a short rein, he’s everywhere she is, watching her. His distrust and determination sparks a plan for some sexy revenge—one that will get them both too close to the flames.

Get your copy here!

Long excerpt from Controlled Burn

Caldera, Texas had been aptly named by its founders. Although technically late winter, the air was unseasonably warm—hot as a witch’s cauldron, and the town just as cursed.

Or, at least the place was so far as Carly Lohan was concerned.

Carly closed her car door and drew a deep breath, thinking she’d as soon have a root canal as walk into the midst of the people gathering inside the community center. All gazes would turn her way. They’d nudge their friends, and the ugly whispers would begin.

She might as well have had a big “A” branded on her forehead, but not for adultery like Hester Prynne—her crime was far worse. Arson wasn’t something folks around here would ever forgive.

Not that she thought of herself as an arsonist. However, a charge like that, even against a minor, clung like skunk spray. Which was why she’d headed to college as soon as she’d graduated high school and now lived a town away. Tonight, she had to face Calderans one last time.

Gripping her purse like it was a shield, she strode toward the door. Before she even reached the steps, she heard a whistle sound from behind her.

“Well, would you lookie there. If it ain’t Carly Lohan. Long time, no see.”

If she were ninety, she would have recognized Tater Johnson’s nasal twang. He’d taunted from her first day in kindergarten and had been the biggest thorn in her side all throughout school. The fact she was here today was partly because of him. She forced a smile and turned. “Good to see you, Tater.”

He smoked a cigarette while sitting on the edge of his truck bed. “Burn up any canyons lately?” he drawled.

Wow. He didn’t even take a second to work up to that. Carly stopped the automatic wince before he could see it. The last thing she should do was rise to a single one of his taunts. “Not lately. You going to the meeting?” she asked, tilting her head toward the open doors.

“Course.” He tipped back his cowboy hat and gave her a narrowed stare. “Keepin’ Caldera Canyon safe is important to me—which is why I’m wonderin’ what the hell you’re doin’ here.”

Carly felt her face heat. Before she could think of a more mature reply, she shot him the bird and turned on her heel. Good Lord, she’d only been back for five minutes and was already reverting to her old ways.

His grating chuckles followed her inside the large hall. The instant satisfaction she’d felt at giving the rude gesture faded as she entered and searched the rows of metal folding chairs. All seats were taken—of course, except for a couple right in front of the speakers’ table. Shit.

She didn’t have a choice. She’d be sitting across from the current sheriff of Caldera County. Her gaze snagged on the man sitting beside him, Jeremiah McCord, and her stomach sank at the glare he leveled. Shit-shit-shit.

Only to herself would she admit the man intimidated her. He was a large man—well over six feet and broad. And he was handsome when his features weren’t set into grim lines as they were now.

“Let’s call this meeting to order,” a man dressed in a park ranger’s uniform said. “We’re all here to talk about the prescribed burn we’re implementing inside the park four days from now.”

She turned her attention to the speaker. At least, he wasn’t staring at her. She didn’t know him, so she kept her gaze glued to the ranger as he started the slide show.

Pictures of happy campers sitting around campfires flashed on the screen, followed by more photos of the rugged bluffs surrounding the park. “Our goal, come Monday morning, will be to burn brush and dried vegetation from the canyon floor, while keeping the fire under control and halting it before the blaze runs the rim of the canyon, endangering local ranches. We won’t touch the areas around the campgrounds or the park service buildings. Those have been kept clear of excess brush by camp personnel. We’re focusing our efforts on the areas north of the campgrounds, through the upper canyon, toward the north rim of the park.”

The next picture was of a jackrabbit hiding in the brush. “A prescribed burn is good for the canyon’s plants and trees, and for its wildlife. By removing underbrush and new seedlings, we give the forest a chance to grow and deprive wildfires of fuel.”

The next photo was of rows of volunteers digging firebreaks, with flames licking across dry grass. The flames blazed orange, yellow, purple—so pretty—she couldn’t stop herself from startling when the slide changed to a photograph of those same volunteers, covered in soot, but smiling as they stood in front of a scorched patch of earth, trees with their bark only slightly singed.

“This is the outcome we want. A safe burn. A way to renew the earth and prevent uncontrolled blazes in the future…”

Carly drew a deep breath, and then made the mistake of again looking at Jeremiah. His gaze bored into her, cold and hard. Had he seen how the picture of the fire held her mesmerized? Her stomach tightened, and she felt a little sick.

Keeping her expression neutral, she returned his stare. She wasn’t that same reckless girl. She’d done her penance, and then some. Performing this last act of restitution would expunge her juvenile record, and she could function without worrying someone would discover her past mistake. She could submit a job application without her hand shaking, because she feared a background check would reveal her crime. And maybe she could finally make use of her teaching degree.

Thank God, she didn’t have to work around here. Jeremiah would consider it his civic duty to make sure everyone kept a close eye on her. He wasn’t exactly the most forgiving man, and if she couldn’t find a better job, she’d never be able to repay him for what he’d lost.

The rest of the presentation droned on and on. The park ranger was followed by the local fire chief, and then the park service expert they’d brought in to help supervise the burn. She tried to pay attention, but felt as though a hundred accusing fingers were pointed at her back. So she sat rigid in her seat, arms crossed, waiting for the briefing to end. She’d get her team assignment and head back to the motel where she’d left her suitcase. Then she could close her door and sleep until Saturday’s training.

Seven years hadn’t been nearly long enough to ease the feeling of guilt that weighed her down. Moving away had helped her live a more normal life, but she’d had these little reminders every so often, part of the deal the judge had made with her to protect her future. Participating in the controlled burn inside the park would be the last time Calderans would have to suffer her presence. And she theirs.

At last, the park ranger turned off the projector. Everyone rose and made their way to the board where team assignments were listed.

She waited patiently while being jostled—probably deliberately. At last, she scanned the list.

Her name was listed on a team of ten—and led by Jeremiah McCord. Shit.

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